Houston has missed the postseason for the first time since 2012, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop watching basketball. The Rockets of the late 2010s still live on in this year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. Whether these players were traded or left in free agency, they’ve all represented H-Town for at least three seasons.
To make matters more interesting for Houston, Chris Paul (who only played in H-town for two seasons) has advanced to the Western Conference Finals. The future Hall of Famer is sitting out indefinitely due to COVID-19, but is only four wins away from his first taste of the NBA Finals. If fate allows it, a Harden versus Paul championship series isn’t far out of reach. However, nothing is set in stone for this unpredictable postseason, and the quest for Eastern Conference dominance is very competitive.
The matchups to watch include the Brooklyn Nets versus the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Philadelphia 76ers versus the Atlanta Hawks. Here is the breakdown of Rockets alumni in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Brooklyn Nets- James Harden
The Brooklyn Nets are clear favorites to win their first NBA championship and have been since James Harden joined the organization. Though, despite nearly 10 years of dedication to Houston, it’s hard to root for The Beard after forming a superteam with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Between Durant’s monstrous performances, Irving’s disrespectful antics, and Harden’s ring chasing, they are also some of the top villains of today’s NBA.
While Brooklyn dismantled the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, injuries have threatened their championship-bound season. At the time of this writing, the Nets are heading into a nerve-wracking Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Kyrie Irving remains sidelined due an ankle sprain, which seems to be poetic justice for his stomping on Lucky the leprechaun in TD Garden. Meanwhile, Harden was suffering from a hamstring injury but reluctantly returned to action for Game 5, in hopes of stopping Milwaukee’s recent burst of momentum.
While a championship would be great for James Harden’s legendary career, the topic draws mixed reactions throughout the league.
Milwaukee Bucks- P.J. Tucker
This rebuilding season for the Rockets has come with various changes. One of the multiple trades executed by Houston this year involves sending P.J. Tucker to the Milwaukee Bucks. While Tucker is fondly remembered by many for his days in H-Town, he’s the least prolific player worth noting. The journeyman is already 36 years in age and a role player at best.
The forward does excel at one trait, and that is getting under the skin of the Brooklyn Nets. Tucker’s defensive efforts against Kevin Durant have been intense, nearly starting fights on the court. It’s this tough presence from the veteran that has bolstered the Bucks’ defense, positively influencing the atmosphere of this competitive series. Heading into Game 7 on Saturday, look out for another stellar defensive performance from Tucker, one that can’t be represented by a box score.
The real interest of this playoff run is seeing how far last year’s regular season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo can take the Bucks, but Tucker’s involvement may augment the experience for Rockets fans.
Philadelphia 76ers- Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard’s three-year tenure in Houston started in 2013. During this time, Howard was reputed as a dominant center in the league. Since his departure in 2016, D12 has played for five different teams over five seasons. Now in Philadelphia, Howard is in pursuit of his second championship ring, winning his first with the Los Angeles Lakers last year.
Howard’s role with the Philadelphia 76ers involves coming off the bench. The Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise player and 2021 MVP Finalist, Joel Embiid, is currently one of the most dominant centers in the league. For this reason, Howard’s impact on the court is limited. Still, it must be memorable for the big man to face off against his hometown Atlanta Hawks.
However, the real Philly attraction of this year’s playoffs involves former general manager of the Houston Rockets Daryl Morey. Morey was pivotal in acquiring James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, turning Houston into championship contenders during the 2010s. The NBA is only a few games away from a Morey versus Harden series. This showdown would truly represent the last era of Houston Rockets basketball.
Atlanta Hawks- Clint Capela
Clint Capela was drafted by the Houston Rockets way back in 2014. Trading him away was especially heartbreaking, as the center developed well in Houston and is an exceptional asset to this day. Capela’s departure helped implement Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball strategy, but it doesn’t take a genius to see the value in a big man averaging 13.9 points and 13.8 rebounds a game.
The Swiss native is a crucial player for the Hawks, a roster of underestimated talent. Few analysts would have Atlanta holding a 3-2 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. One of the key factors for this outcome has been Capela, who has held his own against Joel Embiid. The big man has criticized his opponents throughout the postseason, including Embiid, but he knows how to back up his trash talking well.
Overall, Capela exceeded expectations in Houston and helped shape Atlanta into a serious championship threat. It’ll be interesting see if the Atlanta Hawks, led by Trae Young, will continue to overcome the odds. It’s not easy being the underdog.
Which of these former Rockets would you most like to see succeed in the postseason?
This poll is closed
James Harden - Nets
P.J. Tucker - Bucks
Dwight Howard - 76ers
Clint Capela - Hawks